Board of Appeals rejects plan to build 30 homes for seniors

Project `shoehorned' onto land, chairman says

March 07, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Howard County's Board of Appeals has denied a proposal to build 30 homes for active seniors in Ellicott City, describing the project as "shoehorned" onto the property.

The project served as a development lightning rod, prompting changes in legislation that promotes construction of housing for Howard County's predicted senior boom, as well as further study of the demand and desire for such housing.

Kimberly Homes sought conditional-use permission to build 30 attached homes on a 6.9-acre, L-shaped property off Frederick Road in Ellicott City. However, because of environmental constraints, the homes were clustered on a smaller area of the parcel.

County zoning regulations allow, with permission, up to five homes for seniors to be built per acre on land zoned for about two single-family homes per acre.

Scott Wade, managing principal of developer Kimberly Homes' Ellicott Properties LLC, said after the hearing Thursday that he would wait for the written decision. But he expected to appeal.

"They don't understand the urgency of housing and the lack of it in the county," he said.

Neighbors of the property were pleased by the decision.

"The little guy finally triumphs in the end," said Teri Kastner.

About 200 residents attended meetings to oppose the project. Only a handful attended Thursday's hearing.

"We felt we had a strong case," said Patrick Crowe. He formed the Friends of Font Hill with several neighbors who were concerned that the community of attached homes did not fit the character of their neighborhood of single-family houses and would overwhelm crowded roads.

"This is a square peg in a round hole," said the residents' attorney, Richard B. Talkin, in his summation.

The neighbors of the property appealed the decision of Thomas P. Carbo, the county hearing examiner, who approved the project in June, stating that it was in harmony with Howard County's General Plan. Two technical staff reports by the Department of Planning and Zoning recommended denial of the petition.

David A. Carney, attorney for Kimberly Homes, disputed the reports' findings. He said during his summation that the developers have corrected problems by adding parking spaces and changing the location of certain houses.

"There was absolutely no cogent basis under law" for the planning department to recommend denial, Carney said.

But members of the Board of Appeals did not agree, voting 4-1 against the proposal.

"I see this case ... as being one of the severest cases of shoehorning," said Albert Hayes, the board chairman.

The constraints on the rear of the site "give rise to a situation which would not be in harmony with the surroundings," he said.

Board member Pat Patterson dissented, arguing that once the County Council approved legislation that allowed greater density for senior housing, it had to be compatible.

"To me, they decided then it would be compatible with single-family houses," he said.

The density and amount of usable land was a sticking point.

"They got five [units] per acre, but how many did they put 30 on?" board member Robert C. Sharps asked.

James Pfefferkorn said that the project creates an adverse effect on the surrounding properties, especially given the evidence presented by neighbor Robert Weaver, who has worked as an architect.

In his testimony, Weaver said he compared 14 residentially zoned properties with this one to demonstrate how the project would be more harmful in his neighborhood.

"I don't think senior housing will be disruptive to the neighborhood," said member Jacqueline Scott. "I think it is the design. I think that age-restricted housing does not necessarily equal 30 units on property like this."

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